Cast & Crew
In April 1942, a group of Axis reporters are ushered into a courtroom in Tokyo, where they speculate about the upcoming proceedings. General Ito Mitsubi of the Japanese Army and Admiral Kentara Yamagichi, commander of the Imperial Fleet, enter and are followed by three judges, including Mitsuru Toyama, the head of the Black Dragon Society. The reporters are astonished when eight American defendants are then brought in: Capt. Harvey Ross, Lt. Kenneth Bayforth, Lt. Angelo Canelli, Sgt. Martin Stoner, Lt. Peter Vincent, Sgt. Jan Skvoznik, Lt. Wayne Greenbaum and Sgt. Howard Clinton. Despite Greenbaum's protests that the civil court does not have jurisdiction over military prisoners, Toyama insists that they will be tried in his court. Toyama then informs the prisoners that they are accused of targeting civilians and non-military sites during the American bombing raid on Japan on 18 April 1942. The men deny the accusations, but the first witness, a Chinese traitor named Yuen Chiu Ling, describes how he picked up the Americans when they parachuted into China after the bombing raid, and how they bragged about hitting civilian targets. Mitsubi then shows newsreel footage of destroyed shrines and wounded civilians, but Brazilian reporter Francisco de los Santos recognizes the film as air raid drills conducted before the war. As the lights are turned back on, a yell is heard and Ling is discovered dead. Ling's son Moy admits to killing him to atone for his betrayal, and the American fliers stand in respect as Moy is led out. Mitsubi and Yamagichi then argue about where the American planes originated, and after Toyama recesses court to discuss the issue, Mitsubi questions a sailor, who testifies that his boat was sunk by another vessel on the morning of the bombing raid. Yamagichi claims that American aircraft carriers are too small to launch B-25s, such as those flown by the prisoners, and Mitsubi vows to commit suicide if he cannot prove that the Navy was responsible for the attack through its failure to stop the aircraft carriers. While the other Americans wait in their cells, Ross is introduced to Swiss Red Cross representative Karl Keppel, who assures him that he will alert Washington, D.C. about the situation. After Keppel leaves, Mitsubi warns Ross that he will block Keppel's message unless Ross tells him if the planes came from an aircraft carrier. When Ross refuses to talk, Mitsubi intimates that he will torture the men, and Ross is sent out as Skvoznik is brought in. That night, as he sleeps, Ross hears voices ordering him to protect the U.S.S. Hornet , the aircraft carrier from which the raid was launched, at all costs. The next morning, the fliers are taken back to the courtroom and are horrified when Skvoznik, who has lost his mind after being tortured, is brought in. Canelli and Vincent are knocked out by the guards as they attempt to protect Skvoznik, and are dragged from the room. Before the trial can resume, news arrives that the Japanese have captured Corregidor, and as the judges celebrate, the prisoners are returned to their cells. Later that day, Canelli, whose arm has been broken, returns, and the unconscious Vincent is carried in on a stretcher. The terrified men then sit together but are alone in their thoughts as they remember their families and friends back home. Clinton is taken away, and when he is brought back, his larnyx has been damaged so that he can no longer talk. The next morning, Bayforth is led off, and Clinton writes a note to Greenbaum that he cannot bear the strain any longer and will talk if Bayforth is tortured. Mitsubi, who has planted a microphone in the cell, listens as Greenbaum discusses the note with his comrades, and later, in the courtroom, Bayforth is brought in wearing gloves to cover his shattered hands. When Clinton is asked to testify, he passes another note to Greenbaum, who speaks for Clinton and the others when he states that the Japanese forces must now redouble their efforts to guard every possible border. With the Japanese military thus distracted, the fliers feel that they have accomplished their mission. Desperate, Toyama offers to dismiss the charges and send the prisoners to a military camp if they talk, and Ross asks to speak with his men. In Toyama's chambers, the men debate the offer and decide to cast a secret vote by putting their aviator's wings into a vase. If even one pair of wings is broken, the men will reveal that they came from the Hornet and thus avoid the inevitable sentence of death that the court will hand down. Telling the men that they must bear responsiblity for the still insensible Skvoznik and Vincent, Ross leads them into the courtroom, where Toyama empties the vase and finds eight unbroken pairs of wings. After thanking his comrades for their patriotism, Ross tells the Japanese that even if they kill the fliers, American forces will keep fighting until they are triumphant. Mitsubi then shoots and kills himself, and Toyama sentences the airmen to be executed. As the men are led out of the courtroom, they hold their heads proudly, and even Skvoznik and Vincent march with a determined step.
H. T. Tsiang
George T. Lee
Richard A. Carroll
Ernst Von Harringa
R. L. Hough
Julia Ward Howe
Arthur A. Jacobson
Walter M. Scott
Egbert Van Alstyne
Lt. Eugene D. Wallace
Darryl F. Zanuck
The Purple Heart - Dana Andrews & Farley Granger in the World War II Drama, THE PURPLE HEART
The story is about a kangaroo court in which the eight Americans are tried for murder. All eight were part of the Doolittle raid on Tokyo (look for 30 Seconds over Tokyo on TCM if you haven't already seen it.) All of them had to bail out over China, and they were all captured by a Chinese governor who turned them over to Japanese authorities.
The movie could have easily been framed as a matter of injustice perpetrated against Americans. It is wrong to try POWs for murder in a civil court during a time of war. It is wrong to deny prisoners access to lawyers. Torturing prisoners, fabricating evidence, the presumption of guilt, and ignoring the Geneva Convention are all injustices carried out against these flyers. (Granted, Japan had not signed the Geneva Convention at the time of the events in the movie.)
These issues are raised, but the movie focuses on the positive values of Americans, and not on the dirty tactics used by the enemy. The prisoners discover that they will all be tortured, one by one. Each man faces an internal struggle as he contemplates how he will cope. Each desperately hopes he will not reveal information to the enemy, but none of them can be sure.
The airmen's other heroic struggle, according to the movie, is their decision to vote on whether to sacrifice their lives rather than to tell the Japanese what they want to know. They face execution when (not "if") their guilty verdict is handed down, but if they cooperate, their lives will be spared.
It's almost strange that there isn't more condemnation directed at Japan. There is a sense of resignation that probably reflects the fact that this movie was made during the war. There is no time for talking about morals and ethics. The film takes a matter-of-fact view of Americans being tortured, and it praises these men for facing unjust treatment so stoically. It doesn't try to solve the world's problems by focusing on injustice. It takes injustice for granted and shows how American fighters should face it.
The movie hasn't aged as well as some other films from the same period. There are obvious stereotypes of Japanese and Chinese characters, including some not-very-authentic sounding Asian dialogue. It's a little embarrassing by modern standards, but there were much worse caricatures elsewhere in popular culture at that time.
The Purple Heart also seems to suggest that any man can withstand torture if his will is strong enough and his cause is just. It's an odd message, because it blames the victims of torture for not being strong enough to take it like a man. Still, as propaganda, this is exactly the message the U. S. government would want to send to its armed forces during wartime.
The DVD has an audio commentary by Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel that is informative though uneven. Schickel is prepared with stories about the movie and about the period in which it's set. But he is clearly engrossed in watching the movie and there are long pauses between comments.
Also, The Purple Heart is about the trial of the eight airmen, whereas much of his Schickel's early information is about the Doolittle raid. A little background information is good, but most of the comments would have been better saved for a DVD commentary on 30 Seconds over Tokyo or Pearl Harbor. It's a lost opportunity to really focus on the events of this film, which is almost entirely set in a courtroom, and not on the aircraft carrier or in the bomber itself.
Still, when Schickel is talking, he comes across as well informed. He gives insight into the careers of director Milestone and producer Zanuck (who also wrote the story and is credited as Melville Crossman). Schickel is especially insightful about Milestone's strong suits; he states that Milestone is better at individual scenes than at whole movies, and that high-contrast black-and-white cinematography is something Milestone excelled at. Schickel also shares some facts of the actual case on which the movie is based. For example, in real life only three of the eight were executed and another died in prison.
All in all, The Purple Heart is an interesting movie from the war era. When you've exhausted all the truly great films from this period (including The Best Years of Our Lives), give The Purple Heart a look.
For more information about The Purple Heart, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Purple Heart, go to TCM Shopping.
by Marty Mapes
The Purple Heart - Dana Andrews & Farley Granger in the World War II Drama, THE PURPLE HEART
No your excellency. It's true we Americans don't know very much about you Japanese. And we never did. And now I realize you know even less about us. You can kill us. All of us, or part of us. But if you think that's going to put the fear of god into the United States of America, and stop them from sending other flyers to bomb you, you're wrong. Dead wrong. They'll come by night, they'll come by day. Thousands of them. They'll blacken your skies and burn your cities to the ground and make you get down on your knees and beg for mercy. This is your war. You wanted it. You asked for it. You started it. And now you're going to get it. And it won't be finished until your dirty little empire is wiped off the face of the earth.- Captain Harvey Ross
Based on the eight men captured by the Japanese after the Doolittle raid: Lt. Robert Hite, Lt. William G. Farrow, Lt. George Barr, Sgt. Harold A. Spatz, Cpl. Jacob De Shazer, Dean Hallmark, Robert Meder, and Chase Nielsen. The trial, as depicted in the film, was held at Police Headquarters in Shanghai, China on 14 October 1942. The eight men were condemned to death. Hallmark, Farrow, and Spatz were executed by a firing squad of the Imperial Japanese Army at sunset the next day. The remainder were given an Imperial commutation to life in prison. In 1943, Meder died of mistreatment and various diseases. The remaining four survived until they were freed upon Japan's surrender in August, 1945.
After the opening credits of this film, a written prologue reads: "Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the purple heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen-George Washington, General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, Aug. 7, 1782." Excerpts from the poems "How Do I Love Thee-Let Me Count the Ways," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and "The Boys," by Oliver Wendell Holmes, are recited in the film.
As noted in contemporary sources, the picture was a fictionalized account, based on facts known at the time, of the trial of eight American fliers captured after the April 18, 1942 bombing raid on Japan, which was led by James H. Doolittle. On April 20, 1943, the U.S. War Dept. issued an official statement that the heretofore classified raid had been launched from the U.S.S. Hornet, and that eight of the fliers were presumed to be prisoners in Japan. On April 21, 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt revealed that in March 1943, the Japanese government had confirmed that the eight captured aviators had been tried and convicted, and that an unspecified number of them had been executed. At the time of the production and release of The Purple Heart, the fate of all of the fliers was not known to the American public. [Contemporary sources discussing the film indicate that it was believed that four of the airmen had been executed, and the rest had died as a result of torture.] At the end of the war, it was learned that three of the Americans had been executed by the Japanese and one had died in captivity. The four survivors were rescued from prison by American troops in August 1945. For more information on the Doolittle raid, please see the entry below for Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Although most of the Japanese characters in the film are fictional, Mitsuru Toyama (1855-1944) was an influential politician and prominent member of the Japanese Black Dragon Society during the war.
A June 25, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Bryan Foy would be producing the film. August 1943 conference notes in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collections, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, indicate that William A. Bacher May have been scheduled to produce the picture with Foy. On September 29, 1943, Hollywood Reporter noted that Richard Loo had been tested for the role of "Tojo," although in the finished film, he plays "General Ito Mitsubi." October 1943 Hollywood Reporter news items stated that J. Edward Bromberg, Herbert Rudley, Michael Chekhov, Paul Gordon, Abner Biberman and Alan Napier were tested for the picture, and that Dave Willock was to be in the cast. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, also at UCLA, Biberman was definitely slated for a role, but was released when "it was decided to use all Oriental people in the picture." Farley Granger was borrowed from Samuel Goldwyn for the production, and Donald Barry was borrowed from Republic.
At the time of the film's production, the War Dept. had recently decreed that no filmic depictions of Japanese atrocities could be produced. According to an February 18, 1944 NY World-Telegram article, "the ban was invoked because it was feared that such movies would provoke reprisals against other prisoners." NARS files contain a September 27, 1943 letter, to the Chief of the Feature Film Section, declaring that the Public Relations Bureau of the War Dept. had "no objection to the filming" of the script, providing that the "deleted references to Japanese torture of American prisoners of war" were observed and there would be "no other specific references to Japanese atrocities."
Studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck, who had returned from active military duty in the Signal Corps, decided to make the film anyway, according to contemporary sources, and kept the set closed to prevent any censorship or interference. His onscreen original story credit is under his frequent pseudonym Melville Crossman. The final script was not submitted to the War Dept. for approval or cooperation, according to letters in NARS. On January 27, 1944, the U.S. War and Navy Departments issued an official statement detailing the atrocities committed by the Japanese against thousands of American and Allied prisoners of war after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. Following the government's official acknowledgment, the War Dept. lifted its ban and allowed films depicting wartime atrocities to be released. On February 1, 1944, a Hollywood Reporter article about the decision disclosed that Zanuck had been prepared to delay the film's release until after the end of the war, if necessary. The article also included the OWI's statement about the lifting of the ban: "We have been informed by Washington that convincing use of atrocity material will be useful overseas, especially after the war in Europe has ended, as a means of keeping alive an understanding of our enemy and the will to defeat him." A February 10, 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the War Dept. insisted that producers not "run wild on depicting tortures or brutalities," however, and that "any atrocities shown on the screen must be documented, or at least credible."
The War Dept. maintained objections to The Purple Heart even after the ban was lifted, according to letters at NARS. Among the objections were the speculative nature of the story; the use of the words "purple heart" in the title, which some officials felt was misleading; and worry that the "general tenor of this horror story May have a bad effect on our recruiting program, especially for the seventeen-year-old boys in the cadet plan." The studio did seek official approval from the War Dept. in February 1944, and although the department refused to offer an opinion on the film's suitability for domestic distribution, it did approve the picture for export. The approval was subject to the studio establishing the fact that the film was "a fictionalized version," to "avoid the acceptance of the film as a truely [sic] factual story when the complete story is not yet available." To accommodate the War Dept., the studio agreed to insert the following foreword between its trademark and the picture's opening credits: "Out of the dark mists of the Orient have come no details of the actual fate of the heroic American aviators forced to earth in the bombing of Tokyo. Perhaps those details will never be known. The Japanese Government, in mingled hate and fear, announced only that some were executed. This picture, therefore, is the author's conception of what May well have happened, based upon unofficial reports." This foreword was not included in the print viewed.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA rejected an October 11, 1943 draft of the film's screenplay due to the killing of "Yuen Chiu Ling" by his son. The PCA stated: "The action of Moy in killing his father is unacceptable, as a murder of revenge....likewise the condoning of the act by the Americans." The film was later approved, however.
Technical advisor Otto Tolischus, who is credited onscreen, was a New York Times and London Times correspondent stationed in Tokyo when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Tolischus was taken into custody and held as a prisoner for over five months before being allowed to return to the U.S. with a number of other journalists. In 1943, Tolischus published a book detailing his treatment and experiences during his captivity. In his book, Tolischus reveals that he heard the American bombing raid on Tokyo from his jail cell. Contemporary sources also note that Tolischus had been tried in the same courtroom as the American aviators. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, other technical advisors included Ernst von Harringa, who "spent a number of years in Japan in the import business," Alice Barlow, "an American who was raised in Japan," and Lt. Eugene D. Wallace, an Army Air Force pilot.
In a February 1944 letter to a War Dept. official, Zanuck disclosed that one of his inspirations for the screen story was the experiences of another journalist, J. B. Powell. Like Tolischus, Powell, the editor of The China Weekly Review, was held prisoner by the Japanese. Zanuck's letter states that although he did not talk to Powell personally, he heard about Powell's stories of being incarcerated in a cell next to a group of the captured airmen. Several reviews of the film also mentioned Powell's assertion that he had heard the fliers being tortured. Powell suffered serious, permanent injuries during his months in captivity, and according to a modern source, one of the film's previews was held at Harkness Military Hospital in New York, where Powell was recuperating.
The picture received many laudatory reviews upon its release. The New York Times reviewer called it "an overpowering testimonial," and declared: "Americans cannot help but view this picture with a sense of burning outrage-and hearts full of pride and admiration for our men who have so finely fought and died." According to a April 14, 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item, it took only seven weeks for the film to recoup its production, advertising and print costs. A September 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that the film would be reissued "because of the timely confirmation of its torture story," and that "excerpts from statements by Gen. MacArthur, Wainwright and other Allied military authorities in the Far East" would be used in new advertising campaigns.